The first time Divashya Parmar saw her new little sister she being taken in an incubator to an ambulance to be driven from Luton to a London hospital for emergency surgery. She thought she would never see her again.
Ganaya was born at the Luton & Dunstable Hospital premature at 32 weeks and weighing just 3lbs 7ozs. Then, within days, she contracted a deadly infection which damaged her intestine.
At Lewisham Hospital surgeons carried out a successful operation but the tiny baby then contracted septicaemia and was again fighting for her life.
She spent three months at Lewisham recovering and Divashya could only look at photos and a video of the baby sister she and her family had looked forward to.
There was another blow to come when Ganaya was diagnosed with cerebral palsy impacting her mobility and development
But fast forward six years. Now Ganaya has, incredibly, taken her first steps unaided, has been to America for more operations to help her walk better and is probably the most famous six-year-old in Luton.
Much of this is down to Divashya, now aged 12, and her tireless efforts to raise funds for Ganaya’s treatment, her endless help with physiotherapy, encouraging Ganaya and supporting her mum, dad and little brother Surya.
Divashya, of Turnpike Drive, Luton, is in a competition that hails the achievements of young Bedfordshire people after being nominated for the Atlas Young People of the Year awards or ‘YOPEYs’. YOPEYs are Oscars for young people who ‘give to others’.
There is £2,000 to be won by young people and shared with good causes.
There is a top prize of £800 to be won by a young person or group of young people who help others. The young person or group keeps £400 and invests the other £400 in a good cause of their choice. Second place will win £400, third and junior winners £200 each, all similarly shared.
Typical entries include fundraisers, young carers, and club leaders, volunteers on projects at home or abroad and young leaders who pass on academic or sporting skills.
YOPEY is open to young people aged from 10 to 25, who should live, work or study in Bedfordshire. But they do not have to meet all three conditions. They could go to school, college or university in Beds but live elsewhere and vice versa.
Divashya was nominated by Rachel Bradford, leader of values and life skills at her school, Arnold Academy, in Hexton Road, Barton-le-Clay.
Ganaya’s long road to better health has seen about £50,000 raised by mum Jayshree and dad Parmit and a host of supporters across the town. Ganaya needed a major spinal operation called Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy. This was carried out at Great Ormond Street Hospital last year, but privately because the NHS can provide funding for only 120 children to have the op.
Divashya has herself raised more than £4,000 with a host of events mainly at school.
Ms Bradford said: “Divashya has tirelessly raised money through many different events, she worked alongside the local fire brigade to organise a fun day, been involved in our school enterprise challenge and has raised awareness of Ganaya’s condition with presentations and school assemblies.
“Despite being a quieter member of our school community, Divashya has ensured the school and local community have been aware of her fundraising.
“Divashya doesn’t believe she has done anything out of the ordinary, and this is what makes her so special. We really believe she deserves recognition. She is an inspiration to others,” she said.
Divashya’s mum Jayshree said Ganaya’s sudden arrival and her illness had been devastating for the whole family.
“When she contracted septicaemia she was so poorly we prepared to say goodbye to her. Then over the next three months her father and I took it in turns to stay in London and it was only after a year with stays in Great Ormond Street and the L&D that Ganaya could come home.
“When Ganaya was born Divashya was only six – the same age Ganaya is now. She had to contend with the upset of her little sister being ill and possibly not seeing her again and the upheaval her treatment caused.”
But mum added: “Divashya has been amazing! She has done a lot of growing up and has really been my right arm she even set up our JustGiving page, spoke to her head teacher about getting the school involved and has been on BBC 3 Counties Radio to talk about Ganaya,” said Jayshree.
At home, she said, Divaysha does more than her share with Ganaya’s physiotherapy regime and the sisters have a real bond.
“Ganaya is making real progress with her walking. At the moment with a frame but we hope the trip to America will help lengthen her left leg and she can eventually walk unaided.
“A lot of that is down to Divashya. Ganaya looks up to her sister and says things like ‘when I grow up I want to wear nice clothes and shoes like you’. Divaysha says to her ‘you will… let’s walk some more’.”
Everyone in Luton knows about Ganaya and when they are out Divashya is happy to tell people about her condition and how to help. And she is now looking into fundraising for a little boy with the same condition.
Divashya says the family’s dream is to see Ganaya walk unaided. “I do what I can as I want her to be independent when she is older. When we are out she makes me feel proud as she is such an inspirational little girl. She is always smiling and happy, but cheeky too – and I love her.”
Ganaya says Divaysha is her “best friend”.
Mum agrees with both of them adding: “I believe that children should look up to their parents but Ganaya and Divashya are our inspiration.”
YOPEY has been praised by national leaders. Prime Minister David Cameron said YOPEY entries show determination and “resolve to make a difference”.
YOPEY was founded by former national newspaper journalist Tony Gearing, who said: “There are many young people in Bedfordshire doing wonderful things for others. It’s just that they live in the shadow of a well-publicised anti-social minority.
“We need to give young people the respect they deserve and set up the best as positive role models for others to copy rather than focusing on the small number who appear in the press for negative reasons.”
About this entry, Tony said: “Seeing her little sister gravely ill must have been a real blow and then all the worry about her stays in hospital. But now, thanks to the support of Divashya, and her family, in so many ways she is making fantastic progress.
As well as Atlas Converting Equipment, which manufactures wrapping equipment for various industries, this year’s Beds YOPEY is sponsored by Bedfordshire Fire & Rescue Service, Central Bedfordshire Council, and recruitment company Guidant Group.
The YOPEY charity has also received grants or donations from Bedfordshire & Luton Community Foundation, the county’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Bedfordshire Police Partnership, Aldwyck Housing and others.
Schools, youth organisations, churches and charities across Beds are being urged to nominate their young people. If their nominee wins, they can receive half the prize money. Family and friends can also nominate but they cannot win prize money. Young people can even nominate themselves.
> Do you know somebody who deserves the title Young Person of the Year? To nominate logon to yopey.org or write, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope, to YOPEY, Woodfarm Cottage, Bury Road, Stradishall, Newmarket CB8 8YN for a paper entry form. Entries close on July 31.